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Paddling and pedaling

Sat 30 August 2014 by Rick Gilmore

One of my most vivid memories from the year and a half my family spent living in Madison, Wisconsin was the very instant my dad let go of the purple banana seat on my new stingray bicycle for the first time. I thought I was flying. That first moment of self-propulsion at speed must have been something like that Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong experienced on lift-off earlier that same summer. I was driving a rocket ship along the roads of Eagle Heights. That moment began a life-time love with cycling.

Ten years later at Boy Scout camp in the Colorado Rockies, I opted out of the swim test that was part of the orientation. The water from the mountain lake was cold even in the late July afternoon of our arrival, and I never cared much for swimming. But, I needed to pass that test in order to try canoeing, and I wanted to try paddling very, very much. Watching the other boys take out into the middle of the lake with their canoes, I realized I'd made a terrible mistake. The camp counselors offered a second-chance swim test for those of us who'd passed up the first chance. There was only one catch -- it would be at 7:00 am. I'm convinced I swam the fastest 100 yards in history, temperature assisted of course. The prize was worth it. I got to paddle a canoe for the first time, and that thrill has not diminished in the decades since. Today's kayak outing with friends was as satisfying as my first time in a canoe.

I felt the same thrill the one and only time I got to steer a sailboat. And, while I love the speed of downhill skiing and more recently snowboarding, I find myself drawn to cross country.

There is something about getting from here to there by human, or wind, or water, or gravity's power that appeals to me in a deep way. It's not just the quiet. I do love that. Or, the exercise -- it's more satisfying to side-step up a small hill and ski down it than to freeze on a long chair lift ride. It's an aesthetic. Cycling, paddling, and sailing are beautiful. They satisfy a deep human need to wander, but enable it without diminishing our sense of wonder. If only those human powered airplanes weren't so hard to store in the garage.


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